Looking to pick up a skinny caramel latte at the Upbeat Cafe at Colony High School? It’s going to come with calorie-free flavoring.
Want to grab a quick slice of pizza from the Snack Shack run by the high school’s activities program? Now it’s got a tasty whole wheat crust. You might also notice that the portion size is a bit smaller — 10 slices per pie this year compared to the 8 slices they sold before.
These menu changes are a part of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District implementation of the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards. These national standards are issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Starting in the 2014-15 school year, the Smart Snacks nutrition standards require that “competitive foods” — snacks and beverages sold in vending machines, school stores, snack carts, á la carte lines and fundraising efforts during the school day — are nutritious and promote health.
While serving healthy foods to students during the school day makes sense, it can be challenging to put these standards into action. Many of these stores are run by volunteer clubs and organizations, rather than a school nutrition specialist. Detailed nutrition standards can look overwhelming to volunteers if they don’t get the necessary support.
Rather than trying to navigate the new standards, some districts chose to unplug vending machines and shutter school stores during the school day, only opening for evening sporting events (foods sold more than a half an hour after the school day ends are not required to meet the Smart Snacks nutrition standards). Unfortunately, the clubs and groups running the stores lose that source of revenue when there are many healthy choices they could be selling.
The Mat-Su Borough School District has found a way to meet those standards, continue offering foods and drinks during the school day, and bring in revenue. Rachel Kroon, member of the district’s wellness team, worked with school stores, cafés and coffee shops throughout the district to meet nutrition standards.
“We made individual school site visits to check their current menus and let them sample some Smart Snack-compliant items,” she said. "We delivered a folder with all the Smart Snack Guidelines and gave them a list of snack items they could buy from local stores and Amazon. Then we followed up with site-specific recommendations to the clubs and groups running the stores.”
Thinking about making a change at your school? Here are some tips for a Smart Snacks makeover:
• Share the Guide to Smart Snacks in Schools with anyone who manages a school store or snack bar, coordinates food-based fundraisers during the school day, or sells food on campus outside of the School Breakfast and Lunch Program.
• Check current snacks and beverage inventories using the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Product Calculator. Use the Beverage Inventory and Food Inventory worksheets to help you document and stay organized.
• Browse for compliant products using the Smart Food Planner or work with your school food service to order Smart Snacks-compliant foods through their vendors.
• Consider working with your school food service program to prepare Smart Snacks-compliant foods like muffins, pizzas, sandwiches, or salads for sale in a school store.
• Involve students in taste-testing new options.
• Use Smarter Lunchroom strategies, such as placing healthier items at the front of the counter; using signs withfun, descriptive names to make them visible and attractive; and pricing healthier items at a lower cost than less healthy items.
• Make sure the Smart Snacks standards are included in your district’s required school wellness policy.
One of the best ways to help young Alaskans grow up at a healthy weight is to pass and implement a strong school wellness policy. Evidence of the importance of a strong school wellness policy
(also known as a student nutrition and physical activity policy) is so clear that the federal government requires that every school district receiving funds for school breakfast or lunch have a policy. Alaska school surveys indicate a clear relationship between implementing Smart Snacks nutrition standards and the declining availability of candy and salty snacks in Alaska schools
For more information about Smart Snacks in School or school wellness policies, contact Lauren Kelsey, Obesity Prevention School Partnership Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photograph courtesy of the Mat-Su Borough School District